The largest gathering of tradeswomen in the world recently reconvened in Las Vegas for the 2022 Tradeswomen Build Nations (TWBN) conference! The 2022 event was the biggest one yet with more than 3,000 tradeswomen and allies attending.
The conference officially kicked off Saturday, October 29th with a Plenary session hosted by Vicki O’Leary, Chair of NABTU’s Women’s Committee, and Erica Stewart, National Coordinator of Women in Trades Initiatives for the Boilermakers. They invited notable speakers from the Presidents of the Las Vegas Raiders and the AFL-CIO, to United States Secretaries of Labor and Commerce, Marty Walsh and Gina Raimondo. There was also a special surprise seeing Oregon Tradeswomen graduate, and union electrician with IBEW Local 48, Kennitha Wade introduce one of the speakers. Hearing so many high-level change-makers come together in passionate support of the tradeswomen movement was exhilarating. Each speaker shared about their background and how it connects them to our cause on a personal level. It was an important reminder that we are not alone in this work—the fight for the advancement of women in construction is turning heads and attracting attention far beyond our local communities. With buy-in from our leaders, lasting change is within reach.
With vibrant energy emanating from the Paris Las Vegas Convention Center, thousands of tradeswomen banded together by trade for the fan-favorite tradeswomen banner parade. Working their way through the casino and out into the streets, heads turned as women in construction chanted and cheered in exuberant joy. We wondered how many of these bystanders have ever seen or thought about the prospect of women as trades-workers. Some folks pulled out their phones to record, some joined in cheering on the tradeswomen, all were struck by the energy that radiated from the parade. Carol Murray, Training Coordinator for Oregon Tradeswomen exclaimed, “Seeing our OTW graduates with their locals and walking in the banner parade with their respective trades was SPECTACULAR!!! Their energy was palpable and contagious!”
After demonstrating the power of the tradeswomen movement across the Las Vegas Strip, attendees self-selected into workshops that ranged from “Developing Tradeswomen Affinity Groups Within Your Local,” to “Childcare Strategies That Work for Tradeswomen,” and even “How to be a Male Ally in the Union Construction Industry.” The conference offered engaging workshops for everyone.
The day ended with Caucus meetings by trade and even included a meeting for researchers and non-profit organizaitons. Oregon Tradeswomen staff attended the “Researchers and Non-Profit Caucus” where people from organizations across North America came together to share data and best-practices to better serve women in the trades. Being an organization in such a niche movement can make it hard to find other people doing the same work, so having this space to hear what is and isn’t working for others is incredibly valuable as we continue serving tradeswomen in our community. “Meeting and collaborating with other pre-apprenticeship programs with the goal of adapting and growing in today’s ever-changing landscape was invaluable,” Carol added.
On Sunday, conference attendees heard from more prominent speakers such as Wendy Chun-Hoon, Director of the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau, and Timothy J Driscoll, President of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, re-iterating their commitment tradeswomen. The morning plenary session ended with a panel on the retention and recruitment of women in the trades, an always-important discussion as more women than ever are interested in construction careers, but many leave due to harassment, childcare issues, and other issues on the jobsite. Important discussions continued in the next block of workshops where topics included “Women in Union Leadership,” “Protecting Workers’ Mental and Physical Health and Safety,” and “How to Address Bullying, Harassment, and Intimidation.”
Following the Sunday workshop session, Oregon Tradeswomen graduates and other Portland tradesworkers in the Tradesworker Equity Council (TEC) presented at the Tradeswomen Task Force’s Policy Forum. About 120 people attended, ranging from trades-workers to policy-makers, and seemed captivated by the experiences shared by the TEC. Union officials Scott Oldham from IUPAT in Portland and Charles Greer, Pittsburgh SMART Organizer, shared that this was the best workshop they attended the whole conference, and that they learned so much from the vulnerability of the TEC.
This was a first-time Tradeswomen Build Nations experience for most of the Oregon Tradeswomen staff who attended the conference. “The conference reminded me that I’m not alone, and our organization isn’t alone,” Pathways Training Coordinator Kate Hibbs shared. “Hearing that we’re only 3% of the industry nationwide feels so small, and we can feel so small in the field, but being in a group of over 3,000 at this conference, plus thinking of the other 300,000 women and gender minorities out there—we can’t be erased, we won’t be erased! We want to be in the trades and we are doing what we can so that anyone can be here if they want to.” This idea that we can’t and won’t be erased is a driving factor for the spirit that this conference embodies. It is a constant battle, but we are pushing forward into a better future together. We can’t wait to see how much progress can happen by the time we gather again in 2023.